It “only” took 40 years to get the Archdiocese of New York to allow the body of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen to be returned to his home parish in Peoria, Illinois.
Last Thursday morning, before dawn, the body of the famed broadcaster-priest was disinterred from the crypt below the main altar in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, where it had remained since his death in 1979.
His casket was carried down the steps at the 51st Street entrance to the Cathedral, placed in a hearse, and was taken to La Guardia Airport to be flown back home. Once there, it was placed in a monument in the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Peoria.
Peoria was his home – where he had served Mass as a young man, was ordained a priest in 1919 and consecrated a bishop in 1951. From then until 1965, he was Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of New York. He then was appointed Archbishop of Rochester where he remained until his resignation in 1969.
During those years in New York, he became internationally known for his radio and television work. His talks on television, in the early years of the medium, made him a household name across the country for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Those black-and-white tapes of his work are readily available on the Internet today and have not lost any of their power to reach people.
What makes the secret movement of his body newsworthy is the fact that now, after all those years tied up in litigation in New York, the procedure can proceed for Sheen’s beatification and ultimately canonization. In other words, he is headed for saint hood.
As far as New York was concerned, the movement of his body was a “secret” operation, and that was intentional on the part of New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan. He had insisted the transfer of the remains be done at 5 a.m. to avoid crowds and had issued strict instructions that no media be present. He wasn’t there either.
According to a report by Church Militant, the law of the church does not forbid media presence at such occasions, but that order was imposed by Cdl. Dolan, who is embarrassed at the lengthy and costly court battle he waged to keep Sheen’s remains in New York.
In the years since Sheen’s death, the diocese of Peoria has spent some $1 million pursuing the canonization of Sheen – but was prevented from bringing his body home by New York. That’s necessary for canonization to continue.
The legal battle involved Joan Cunningham (Sheen’s niece) and the diocese of Peoria against the diocese of New York – which, in fact, appealed four times to keep Sheen in the city … and each time, the courts ruled against them.
The last, most recent decision by the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, was the end. Archbishop Sheen is finally home – and with that, the Cause of his beatification will proceed. The announcement was made by Daniel Jenky, the Bishop of Peoria.
As reported in Lifesite News, the cause of Sheen’s sainthood was opened by the Peoria diocese, and in 2006 testimony concerning two miracles alleged to have occurred through Sheen’s intercession was sent to Rome. In 2012, Pope Benedict declared Sheen “Venerable” and it appeared that his road to sainthood would continue.
But it all snarled with the New York lawsuits, as the Archdiocese refused to give permission for the return of Sheen to his home parish. That ended this month with the results of the last lawsuit and court ruling against New York.
The Vatican has confirmed that the Cause for Beatification has now resumed. The details of the alleged miracle will be presented to Pope Francis for his decree authenticating the miracle – which involved the miraculous healing of a newborn infant who was without vital signs for over an hour, a child who still survives.
While Peoria Bishop Jenky doesn’t know the possible date for the Beatification, it’s hoped it will be within weeks.
There has been no official reaction statement from Cardinal Dolan, who some say is embarrassed at the outcome of the legal battle – especially since he has spent hundreds of thousands of church dollars fighting in court and hiring high-priced lawyers, while at the same time his diocese has had to close schools and parishes and beg Catholics for donations, claiming a lack of money.
According to the Diocese of Peoria, the remains of Archbishop Sheen will be encased in a marble monument inside the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Peoria, located at the side altar dedicated to the Blessed Mother Mary, Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Visitors to the altar are invited and visiting hours are posted.
May Archbishop Sheen finally rest in peace.
I have many wonderful memories of watching him on TV and now, listening to those broadcasts. In my mind, he is blessed.